Is Giethoorn Worth Visiting? How to make your visit sustainable

Before visiting Giethoorn, it was high on our bucket list! Basically all we had heard was that it was a village in the Netherlands without any roads or car. While this is the reality indeed, there’s a little more to it. So is Giethoorn worth visiting?

Table of Contents

Introduction

Giethoorn is a small town in the Netherlands in the province of Overijssel, around 1.5 hours drive away from Amsterdam. In recent years, it’s become really popular with Dutch and foreign tourists alike. At some point or another, it went completely viral on social media. Unfortunately this has led to quite a lot of of overcrowding at certain times of year.

An area I’d compare it to is the Cotswolds in the UK; although visually beautiful, it is tiny! At its core, Giethoorn is a residential village and people live there. What this means is that it’s very easy to overcrowd Giethoorn, and by default, its residents. So how do we visit this beautiful area but in a responsible way?

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A small house in Giethoorn. It has a beach set up outside in the garden and is right on the canal. There is a deck chair and even a blow up flamingo outside.
Houses in Giethoorn

So is Giethoorn worth visiting?

The short answer is: yes, but it’s better to stay overnight. Giethoorn is worth a visit. It’s a beautiful part of the Netherlands, with lots of fun things to do, and it’s also extremely unique.

The long answer is: Giethoorn gets extremely crowded during the day, especially on weekends, because most people will only visit as part of a day trip from Amsterdam or another area of the Netherlands. This can be really overwhelming for the locals (and really for everyone!), as much of Giethoorn is residencial.

The vast amounts of motor boats on the water can make it hard for people to get anywhere in a hurry and sometimes there are traffic jams, mainly caused by tourists who don’t really know how to drive the boats as well as the locals. Additionally, the day trippers don’t contribute much to the local economy in Giethoorn because they aren’t paying for accommodation overnight, and often don’t buy anything in the shops.

This effectively means that the prices are inflated in a lot of the shops so that the business-owners can maintain a sustainable business and this is not fair, again, for the locals, who may not be able to afford the increased rates.

Basically, if you’re visiting, try to stay overnight to avoid contributing to that.

Getting to Giethoorn

GIven that it’s a village with no road, it’s easy to imagine it would be hard to get to… but it’s not! There are a few different ways you can choose. As usual, we’ll go from most to least sustainable.

Train + bike – if you can cycle, this is a great option and not difficult! The closest train station is Steenwijk, and from there you can hire or bring a bike and cycle to Giethoorn. It’s a lovely bike path and around 8km long. There’s also a bike rental at Steenwijk station, where you can even hire electric bikes.

Train + bus – from Steenwijk, you can also take a bus (currently bus line number 70) and there are multiple other buses from other stations in the Netherlands.

Car – if you have your own transport, Giethoorn is to drive. This was surprising for us, in light of the fact that it’s a village with no roads! However, there is a road that runs right to the edge of the village, so it is very easy to drive to.

If you need to fly internationally, the nearest airports are Amsterdam and Groningen.

Things to do in Giethoorn

  • Take a stroll through the village centre – Giethoorn (contrary to what a lot of the internet says!) is very walkable. You don’t need a boat to explore, and can easily wander through the centre. On arrival, if you keep wandering down the main road, you’ll reach a bridge you can cross in under 10 minutes, and from there, you’ll find a bunch of quaint shops and restaurants
  • Stop for a coffee or dinner on the canals – there are plenty of adorable coffee shops and restaurants in the village centre. They’re an amazing place to stop and soak up the atmosphere.
  • Visit a traditional Dutch cheese shop (with free samples!) – I don’t think we need to upsell this one too much!
  • Eat as many stroopwafel as you can in the stroopwafel store. If you don’t know what a stroopwafel is, you MUST try one. Caramel buttery goodness in a delicious biscuity form.
  • Visit a museum – Giethoorn may seem like an unusual place to have a museum but there are actually multiple! You can visit the Museum ‘t Olde Maat Uus, a traditional farmhouse in the middle of the village, or Museum The Old Earth, a gem and mineral museum.
  • Have a picnic on an island in the lake – the lake in Giethoorn is a beautiful, albeit windy, place for a picnic. Take out your own lunch and soak in the views.
  • Wander through the boutique shops – Giethoorn is a village that caters well to tourists, so naturally there are lots of souvenir shops. From a sustainability standpoint, we’d recommend going easy on buying souvenirs, but of course this is personal choice.

Overall it’s a lovely place to spend a day or two, and makes for some unique photos.

Boats in Giethoorn

A really popular thing to do in Giethoorn is to hire a motorised sailing boat. The friend who took us to Giethoorn was really keen to do this. He is from the Netherlands himself and a big fan of sailing. Naturally, we were guests in his house and went with his suggestion, but given our time again, we wouldn’t choose to do this two reasons:

  • There is not much space on the inner canals of the village and it got extremely crowded. At one point, there was a total blockade and no one could move while a bigger boat was trying to get out. This not only felt really environmentally unethical (so many motorboats in such a small space just cannot be good for the local ecosystem!), but also must have been a huge pain for the local inhabitants.
  • They’re really expensive. After haggling for quite a long time (our friend loves a bargain), we were able to get this boat price down to 70 EUR for 2 hours (still more than the online price). They were initially asking for 80 EUR and it is more for the nicer boats. OK, admittedly, this should have been split between four of us, but this is still an expensive couple of hours!

Initially, we thought it was really difficult to get around Giethoorn without a boat (based on what we’d seen online), but this is definitely not the case. It’s extremely easy to walk around Giethoorn and very accessible.

Guidelines for a responsible visit to Giethoorn

In our opinion, tourism can often be a force for good, when done responsibly. Here are some ways you can keep your trip responsible, without skipping your visit.

Visit out of season or on a weekday

As with most tourist areas, Giethoorn is at its busiest at the weekend. It also gets exceptionally busy during the summer months when kids are not at school. If you can avoid visiting during very busy periods, you help alleviate the large influx of tourism during times when it becomes unmanageable. This also helps provide people working in tourism with valuable income during potentially quiet months.

Limit Souvenir Buying

Souvenir shopping is an ingrained and central feature of a holiday for many tourists. Unfortunately, it does buy into somewhat needless consumerism and isn’t great for the environment. If you can limit your souvenir buying, this is generally better. If you feel you’d still like to buy something, go for:

  • Locally produced food or drink – unlikely to be wasted and a good way to contribute to the local economy!
  • Hand-crafted souvenirs. Small-scale is generally more sustainable and often involves locally-sourced materials.

Skip the boat hire

I think we covered this pretty well above, but to reinforce, Giethoorn is just as fun without a boat. Consider walking or cycling instead.

A drone shot of a boat on a canal in Giethoorn. On either side are bushes.

Respect local boundaries

First and foremost, Giethoorn is a residential area, which makes it someone’s home. The people who live here have to put up with tourists every single day. As responsible travellers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we respect their boundaries and make it as easy for them as we can. This means:

  • No trespassing – stay off their lawns and away from their houses
  • No photos of people without permission. If you want to take a photo of someone, it’s nice to strike up a conversation and make sure they feel comfortable too. If you’re taking photos of the scenery and you accidentally get a local in your photo, don’t post this to social media, especially if it has their face in. For social media posting, you should always get consent and share your follower number to ensure locals are fully aware of the implications of them having their photo online.
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum. Think how you would want visitors to behave if you lived there.
  • Absolutely no littering. Leave no trace.
  • If you see other tourists doing these things, call it out.

Stay Overnight

Many visitors choose to visit Giethoorn just for a quick day trip. Although this is understandable, as it’s a small place with only a few things to see and do, it can cause issues. When tourists choose to pass through only for a day:

  • They often choose to take quick and convenient modes of transport, such as cars, rather than more sustainable slower modes
  • The local economy will not receive as much money. Many tourists will literally stop in Giethoorn for a couple of hours, just to take photos and leave. This can be a huge problem, as often they won’t even contribute so much as a cup of coffee to the local economy.
  • They just don’t get as much out of it! By assuming a destination is only worth visiting for a day, you often miss a chance to get to know a culture really well and find out what else an area has to offer

Choosing instead to stay overnight (or better yet a few nights) can be seriously beneficial to a local economy. It’s one of the main reasons slow travel is often thought to be much more responsible.

Ducks on the side of a canal in Giethoorn. You can see a pink, blow-up flamingo in the background.
Ducks in Giethoorn

Where to stay

As a travel agent, I always like to give recommendations of places to stay. The below are hotels I would recommend based on customer feedback and reviews. On site, Giethoorn does not have many luxury or 5* hotels, but it has some extremely well-rated 4*s and boutique hotels.

Sustainability stay (mid-range)!

Bed and Bike De Hofstee – this is such a cute place. Not only do they include an awesome welcome food package on arrival, but they also give you two free bikes for your stay to explore the village! An amazing sustainable initiative.

Budget

Black Sheep Hostel – this is a great budget option in the centre of Giethoorn, a quick walk from the bus stop and with a nice restaurant on site

Midrange

Tiny House Indy Blue – this house is adorable and owned by a local family. It’s well-located and has a nice garden but not too many facilities on site. It’s very cosy and would be great for couples.

Waterresort Bodelaeke Giethoorn – this hotel would be great for families, as it provides 3 bedroom houses. It’s in a lovely, scenic location too, right on the edge of the lake!

Giethoorn Lodge – though it may not sound it, Giethoorn lodge has a spa and sauna! It’s a very cosy little place and one of the few in Giethoorn that offers parking

Hotel de Harmonie – this hotel is in a seriously beautiful location on the edge of a canal in Giethoorn, and offers a beautiful restaurant and terrace

Find a hotel below:

A drone shot of a beautiful national park full of canals. You can see sailing boats on the canals and lots of forest.
De Alde Feanan National Park

Other areas of the Netherlands to visit

Believe it or not, before visiting the Netherlands this time around, we had no idea how popular Giethoorn now is! We still thought it was a complete unknown. Though not the case, we’re still really glad we got to visit this beautiful place.

However, if you truly are looking for somewhere more off the beaten path, then try one of the places below:

De Alde Feanan National Park – this is one of the most beautiful areas of the Netherlands! A gorgeous National Park, with 450 species of flora and fauna. You can even hope to see otters if you’re lucky.

Schiermonnikoog – another stunning National Park in the North East, which is actually an island off the coast of the Netherlands. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, you can expect to find beautiful sand dunes here!

Also for a truly unique seasonal visit, you can visit the Tulip fields. Check out this amazing complete guide from CZ Phones Home.

You’ll notice that most of the areas we recommend are in Fryslân – we spent a few weeks there with friends in August 2023 and explored a lot of this area. We truly feel it is such an undiscovered area of the Netherlands and absolutely recommend any travellers seeking off-the-beaten track experiences to check it out.

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Written by Emma Cartwright 23 January 2024

Emma

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